Friday = My day: Episode 7 – Parkinson’s law of fitting it all into the time you can fit it into.

Posted: May 10, 2013 in Life to the full, My day
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So this week has been a profound digesting week for me.

Articles, links, video clips, you name it – I have ingested some pretty incredible stuff. And almost all of it has been mind-blowingly good. I am not usually the reader-discoverer [you know, like hunter-gatherer but with words] although I do enjoy reading. But Val is normally the one that finds amazing articles and passes them on to me and I send them on. But for some reason, from a variety of sources and even just stumbling upon stuff this week has been a rich one. So so much.

The danger, and this is another post sometime, and I’ve alluded to it before, is that we get so excited about these life-and-world-changing ideas that we remain in the excited-about-the-idea phase and instead of every actually doing anything new, different or life-transforming, we simply bounce from exciting idea to idea and forward and paraphrase for our blog and retweet and yet nothing changes. This week’s ‘Kony2012’ becomes next week’s post or video on poverty or abortion or gay rights or whatever it is. We feel good because we posted, shared, liked, but we are still sitting in front of our computers screens playing point-and-click. So that’s the danger. And we need to be constantly checking ourselves on that. What are we actually physically doing to bring about change, beyond just the hype on our screens?

But I read this one article today, that was forwarded to me by my friend Jeremy Herman, which was titled ‘Your Lifestlye Has Already Been Designed’ and which I will include the link to at the bottom, and it really felt like such a potentially important piece.

I have understood the principle of Parkinson’s Law and was even thinking about it earlier this week, before I even heard that such a thing existed, but it goes something like this:

‘You may have heard of Parkinson’s Law. It is often used in reference to time usage: the more time you’ve been given to do something, the more time it will take you to do it. It’s amazing how much you can get done in twenty minutes if twenty minutes is all you have. But if you have all afternoon, it would probably take way longer.’ [David Cain]

I know this to be true. Thrown in a deadline and suddenly the work happens. Maybe it is super relevant for me because I was always a ‘night before’ kinda guy at school. So however much time you gave me for a project or homework, the likelihood was that if it could be crammed into one evening, then that is how it would happen [the evening closest to hand-in time preferably]. Part procrastination and part the adrenalin of knowing that it has to be done in this moment.


I learnt an important lesson when I worked in the UK for 6 to 8 months in 2000 when I was saving up money to go on a Youth With A Mission Discipleship Training School [aka YWAM DTS]. Nobody works over there. Now this is clearly a wild generalisation, and so huge apologies to British people who do work, but in the company that I spent eight weeks in at one point, it was definitely true. And the second thing I learnt is that South Africans are very popular in the work place in the UK and I think it is because generally we do work well. I remember working as a membership assistant for a teacher’s union and my boss would have a coffee break and then a smoke break followed by a chat at a colleague’s desk, followed by another smoke break and then a trip to the ladies room, walk around the office, smoke break, lunch, you get the picture. She just never seemed to work. I was given a thick file of work to do which the previous membership assistant had taken three months to hardly dent and I was done with it in a week. I had to work very hard at the ridiculously horrible task of ‘trying to look busy’ as I kept running out of work faster than they could make it up for me.

But read David’s article and there are some very interesting things that come out such as:

# small-scale, casual, promiscuous spending on stuff that doesn’t really add a whole lot to my life – think Starbucks…

# he refers to ‘a Culture of Unnecessaries’ and the media and society’s influence in creating the idea of how necessary these things are to us.

‘This is only one small example of something that has been going on for a very long time. Big companies didn’t make their millions by earnestly promoting the virtues of their products, they made it by creating a culture of hundreds of millions of people that buy way more than they need and try to chase away dissatisfaction with money.’

# David also digs into ‘The real reason for the forty-hour workweek’ and this was one of the things that really struck me.

‘The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.’

This was revolutionary stuff for me. Not because it doesn’t make obvious sense, but just the way he leads into it through the example of the travelling he did where he spent a lot less money in foreign countries than when he was at home. And it was the shift in perspective that caused him to think a lot about this and notice some of his conclusions. The 40 hour work week was a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays?

And then he brings it back to my newly discovered Parkinson’s law: Most of us treat our money this way. The more we make, the more we spend. It’s not that we suddenly need to buy more just because we make more, only that we can, so we do. In fact, it’s quite difficult for us to avoid increasing our standard of living (or at least our rate of spending) every time we get a raise.

So if we could somehow make the work week shorter [Val and I currently work 30 hours a week, although at a non-profit being funded by support raised largely from friends back home, so not a typical case] then we would have more time for things like exercise and hobbies and family and also to get involved with the deeper issues of social justice and community and even world transformation. We would likely be happier, more fit, less likely to get sick and stressed out. Such a hugely positive, possible side-effect.

It seems impossible. But in the 19th century, when people were working 14 or 16 hour a day shifts, anything less than that probably seemed ridiculous and unreachable. So who knows what could happen if we got together and started planning and dreaming and then doing. This seems a lot more possible in our modern world of easy access to technology, entrepreneurship opportunities, inter-community connectedness and interdependance.

Am getting more and more excited daily I think about the idea of connecting and sharing space with people who really believe that a different world is possible and are up for the risk of trying to live life in some different ways that might make this true. Which, I guess is partly how Val and I find ourselves over here, working for Common Change as one of those very ideas.

[for David Cain’s full article, ‘Your lifestyle has already been designed’, click here]

[For next Friday’s Passing it Forward, click here]

[for last Friday’s Blessed are the Matrix-filled, click here]

  1. […] Friday was a revolutionary paradigm shift read in terms of how we spend out time and how productive … […]

  2. […] [To see last Friday's look at Parkinson's Law of Fitting things into the Time you have to Fit them i… […]

  3. […] [For next Friday's Fitting Things into the space that Time permits, click here] […]

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